The first time I heard of >Observer_, I was debating whether to purchase it from Limited Run Games. I ended up missing out on it, and it drifted along the rivers of memory. Then, >Observer_ was announced and released for the Nintendo Switch, and a review code came across my desk. Sure, I thought, as I researched the title before beginning the review; this game seems to have a cult following, which usually means there’s something to enjoy about a game. So I popped in the code, downloaded the small(ish) file, and booted up my Nintendo Switch. Boy, was I surprised.
>Observer_ is a first person psychological horror and puzzle game. You take the role of Daniel Lazarski, voiced by the legendary Rutger Hauer, a detective for the Observer KPD. As an officer, he comes equipped with electromagnetic and bio-vision(s), enabling him to scan electronics, hack devices, and scan anything biologically related. He can even hack people. The world of >Observer_ is set in a futurish, cyberpunk world. When I did my research, Blade Runner, the fantastic Ridley Scott film starring Harrison Ford and based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (from the late, great Philip K. Dick), often popped up as a comparison. In general terms, those descriptors are correct – and >Observer_ thrives with its cyberpunk world.
The thing I really liked about >Observer_ is that, like any good psychological horror, it is a slow burn. As the game opens, Lazarski is contacted by his estranged son who goes by a new name. He raids the apartment complex where he believes his son to be, finding a headless corpse at the scene. Here is where the game really begins, and its gameplay mechanics shine from the first crime scene investigation. With your augmented vision, you scan the scene for evidence and clues about what happened and to whom. You can see, through Lazarski’s eyes, the beginning of his psychological madness, and the game plays with well by severely distorting his vision (this can be assuaged a bit by taking certain consumables). But the real horror begins once Lazarski starts hacking into the minds of various in-game characters (we’ll get to that in a bit).
After clearing the initial apartment, you’re free to move along or interview the residents in the complex. This is where >Observer_ shows its flexibility, if you will. Where your typical genre horror game sticks to its genre with little variation, >Observer_ sees you bend and cross genres in order to craft an interesting and intricate narrative. The game isn’t steeped in adrenaline horror, as it effectively switches paces by interjecting puzzles, scenes of deep exposition, and telling dialogue. But once you being your journey inside the minds of other characters, >Observer_ creates an effective and tense environment, one full of anxiety inducing hallways. >Observer_ is developed by the same team that pushed out the solid Layers of Fear, which means you’ll never quite feel safe or secure.
Perhaps >Observer_’s greatest accomplishment on the Switch, however, is in the fact that it runs well when in handheld mode. If you’ve read other reviews of mine for games ported to the Switch, you’ll know that I often gripe about poor handheld performance. I can safely say that, after hours of play on handheld, >Observer_ doesn’t really miss a beat. And this is saying something, since the game throws a lot of visual distractions in your way, and switching your visual augmentations drapes your visuals in various colors with a number of informational ‘pop-ups’. From what I experienced, this may be one of the best games I’ve played on the Switch when it isn’t docked – ever.
I do have a few issues with a few aspects of the game design, however. First – the sound quality isn’t the greatest. I’m a big fan of Rutger Hauer, and the cyberpunk/Blade Runner vibe the game puts off is fantastic. Even still, the 75 year old actor sounds like he’s fighting through a stroke. Still, I’m not sure anyone else could portray Mr. Lazarski as effectively as the gruff Hauer. Other voice actors felt like they grabbed people from the office to record some lines, which always takes away from the cohesiveness of the game. To make up for this, however, >Observer_ masterfully creates atmospheric sounds that, when combined with its horror sequences, simply works.
If you’re considering picking up >Observer_ for the Nintendo Switch, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions. Are you looking for a good psychological horror game (how many does the Switch really have?)? Are you willing to pay $29.99 for a roughly 10 hour long experience? If your answer is ‘yes’, then I recommend giving this one a try. You never know when another good horror experience will come to the Nintendo Switch, especially one of this nature. You can do so, too, safe in the knowledge that this one travels well in handheld mode with solid performance (and works great, too, while docked).